Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Grim Experience: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

My bad! I have no one to blame but myself. There wasn't much out there I hadn't seen, and I needed something to see Friday night after a stressful teaching week. I thought, at least, the film might start out with an atmospheric depiction of Grimm's classic fairytale and I could enjoy gazing upon Gemma Arterton's beautiful face. Alas, the film hurriedly jumps through the fairytale with artless art direction and without any sort of imagination. So much could have been done with this prologue. We don't even get "Nibble, nibble, like a mouse. Who's that nibbling at my house?" And the bread crumbs? No crumbs! And here I am in a bind since I promised earlier that I would post comments on all the movies I see this year. Well, I won't have much to say.

What follows this film's artless prologue is just as artless, a big mess of silly gore and boring action. With witches, you'd think you'd get some interesting makeup and costumes. Instead, the makeup is shoddy and not a bit scary. Gemma is cute, and the character of Edward the Troll is at least campy enough to be interesting, like something you'd find in the cult classic Labyrinth (1986), obviously an actor in an over-sized costume but actually establishing a whimsical tone. But the Troll is not enough to make this so-called movie worth viewing. The only really good thing about seeing this thing was that I had to go back the next day for a second viewing of Mama in order to flush out the bad taste.

Mama is a straightforward horror film that doesn't waste time. Its artful look and its solid acting take you along for a chilling, touching ride. What I noticed this time was that the amazing performances of the two little girls, thralls to the possessive ghost of a disturbed mother, add a lot to the strength of this film. Megan Charpentier as eight-year-old Victoria and Isabelle Nélisse as six-year-old Lilly are simply superb in their subtle, invested performances. As Victoria yearns for the touch of a "real" mother, the less articulate Lilly is still tied to the influence of Mama. Nélisse shows Lilly's awareness of the lurking Mama in her eyes and in her incipient smile. Meanwhile, Charpentier shows growing maturity as she learns the advantages of a warm-blooded mother and expresses her terror of Mama's jealousy. Working superbly with the girls, Jessica Chastain does a great job of showing her emerging motherly attributes, qualities she has previously denied. In one of the best scenes, she engages in a wrestling match with Lilly, battling to embrace the child and convince her that she is safe and loved. The climax of this struggle is a wonderfully touching moment. Here, as throughout, Nélisse's large, haunting eyes say a world of meaning without words.

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